Author: Pavel K. Baev - MC Series: Security Insights, Number 43 - Published: January 2020


Russian strategic culture has transformed quickly in various and not always coherent directions. One of the increasingly prominent traits is the greater reliance on nuclear capabilities as an instrument of policy. The breakdown of many key elements of the arms control system underpins and intensifies this Russian reenergizing of nuclear deterrence. Russia’s Grom-2019 strategic exercise in October 2019, unprecedented in its scale and complexity, illuminated some alarming features in this nuclear renaissance:

  • Russian leadership not only accepts the possibility of but also seeks to prevail in a large-scale nuclear war involving multiple exchanges of various strikes.
  • The modernization of Russia’s nuclear arsenal is not yet complete and—because new weapon systems are mixed with old ones—the compatibility of various capabilities is uncertain.
  • High-intensity exploitation and exercising of all available assets and testing of new prototypes progressively increases the probability of accidents, which could be blamed on a “hostile external interference.”
  • Russian command tends to perceive its readiness to manage the high risks of accidents and brinksmanship as an important strategic advantage over the risk-averse United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
  • The heaviest concentration of nuclear assets and the highest intensity of nuclear-related activities will continue to be found in the Arctic theater.

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